The brown brick fireplace, original to this 50s-era ranch house, did not reflect the taste nor lifestyle of its present-day owners. It was installed at a time when there were limited mantel options. Reflective of a time gone by, it needed to be redesigned in keeping with the couple’s style.
The entire fireplace wall was drywalled over, left, leaving the brick underneath intact. The perimeter of the firebox was then treated with a fire-rated drywall material. A new Provence-style mantel with block legs, above, was fashioned from cast-stone hybrid cement.
Distinctive Mantle Designs
Photos by Mark Schmidt
After Kay Niedner and Ron Dvorak married they sold their respective homes and bought an outdated 1950s ranch house in Denver. Then they called on Rita Henry for help with the living-room remodel. Henry, owner of Distinctive Mantle Designs in Denver, knew exactly where to begin: The lackluster brown brick fireplace had to go.
“The brick made the whole room drab,” Henry says. “It came up five feet off the floor, with a brick ledge, topped by drywall up to the ceiling. It ran about 10 feet across the L-shaped living room and wrapped around to the dining area.”
Henry’s solution was not to remove the unattractive fireplace, although some wood mantels may be more easily removed, but to drywall over the entire living room wall, leaving the brick intact underneath. The actual fireplace, which is brick inside, was in good shape. It was the entire fireplace with mantel that needed to make an updated design statement.
The area within 12 inches of the actual firebox was treated with a fire-rated drywall material. The couple then selected a large Provence-style mantel with substantial block legs from Henry’s selection of custom mantels created from molds. Made from cast-stone hybrid cement, the mantel is 6 feet wide, 4 feet tall, and sits on the existing 12-inch raised hearth, which the homeowner refaced with 3/4-inch cast-stone pieces from Henry.
“They chose it in a beige textured stone, making the mantel look more appealing,” Henry says. “It has a casual mountain look. An ornate mantel may be too much for a ranch house. This is a wood-burning fireplace and the mantel is warm and inviting.”
Henry also was able to add a little “instant architecture” to the project by mitigating the effect of the L-shaped room. After the fireplace and wall were drywalled, an undesirable 5-inch bump-out remained over the end of the brick where the dining area begins. She brought in a carpenter she often works with to build a shallow arch, framing the dining area and providing a design treatment to complement the mantel, the focal point of the living room.
“The fireplace is one spot in a room where you can add any kind of architectural interest that fits the house,” Henry says. “You get a feeling of permanence with a stone fireplace—it’s solid. Don’t be afraid to mix it up, especially with hard-edge ultramodern furniture, where a fancy fireplace could be fun. You may have great views, but what else can you look to for coziness?”